Volunteers repair veteran's house in Upper Fruitland before the new year

UPPER FRUITLAND — The happiness from World War II veteran Paul Anderson's face could not be erased as he walked into his kitchen Monday.

Anderson, 93, built his house, located in Upper Fruitland off of Old Navajo 36, approximately 60 years ago. But a fire on Dec. 14 left a large hole in the kitchen ceiling, exposing electrical wires and charring insulation and roof trusses.

Katherine Charley, Anderson's daughter, contacted The Daily Times about the situation and asked the public for help to repair the house.

The San Juan County Fire Department determined the fire started when a stove pipe in the roof failed. The pipe either grew too hot, had been the wrong type or had deteriorated over the years because of use, explained San Juan County Fire Chief Doug Hatfield.

After The Daily Times story was published Dec. 19, Ireke Cooper, president of Cooper Fire Protection Services Inc., contacted Charley to learn about the situation and to inspect the damage.

Cooper then organized a group of volunteers from inside and outside his company to repair the house in time for Christmas.

"It's our opportunity to say thanks in a meaningful way because there are not many World War II veterans left," Cooper said, adding that both of his grandfathers were veterans.

His company donated materials, equipment and construction labor, and he also contacted area businesses to see if they could donate materials and time to complete the repairs.

That call for help was answered by Central Flood Management, which loaned equipment and helped with project planning, coordination and construction labor.

Castle Rock Builder Services helped with material procurement and construction labor. Construction labor was also provided by Tattoos with Luster. Valencia Insulation donated insulation, Westates Supply donated a new water heater and installation accessories and Kwall Paint gave discounted paint.

"I'm thrilled. Mr. Anderson is back in his house, and that was the intention," Cooper said.

Crew members started drying the house Dec. 20. Then came demolition, rebuilding the roof trusses, replacing sheet rock and then texturing and painting the entire interior.

Crews replaced 80 percent of the ceiling and also replaced sheet rock in both bedrooms and the living room, installed a new window in the laundry room and painted the exterior.

Volunteers hustled and bustled from dawn to dusk each day and completed work on Dec. 24.

"I really appreciate it," Anderson said in Navajo as he sat on his twin size bed on Monday.

His daughter after praised the volunteers.

"They did an awesome job," Charley said. "We got used to the guys working here."

After the fire, Anderson stayed at Charley's home in Upper Fruitland but later moved into his son's house, which is next door to his 60-year-old house.

Charley recalled her father sitting in front of the large window that faces his home and watching the construction work.

"He sat there until it was over," Charley said, adding that her father would visit with the volunteers and review the progress.

Before leaving, the group hung up a U.S. Marine Corps flag in Anderson's freshly painted bedroom and a United States flag in the living room. Anderson served in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 1944.

Both of the flags are welcome additions to the Anderson home, Charley said.

In addition to the assistance the family received from Cooper and others, they also received help from a neighbor, a 4-H Club in Kirtland donated $100, a Bloomfield resident donated a couch and bed and a family from Kirtland provided a green chile stew luncheon to the workers.

Charley also received telephone calls from people who wanted to donate material.

Although Anderson is not fully moved back into his house because the family wants to make sure the interior paint is completely dry, his eyes light up whenever he checks out the repairs.

"I slept here last night, so I'm already back in," Anderson said.

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